Reflections on Luke 15:17-19
But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!”
Tell me, why does it take so long for common sense to kick back in -- after we’ve trashed it, beaten it down, and mocked its stupid reminders so we could go and do what we should never have gone and done? When it does kick in, why does it take forever long to listen? Listen to the point we act? Act so we can change.
He worked with them every day in the fields, side by side. Some of them he’d known from childhood. They’d been with his family that long. He grew up with their kids – played with them. And now, some of them worked the fields too. All of them, hired servants, but really, more like family. More like friends.
They had it better than him now. Their stomachs were full. Their beds warm. Their bodies, their clothes, clean in the morning’s light. Their boss provided for them, loved them. His boss barely gives him the scraps off his table.
Their boss, his father.
Common sense: Go back to him.
How long had it been since he’d given him a second’s thought? Or remembered the look on his face when he grabbed the money and left him standing there? On the road. Crying. He didn’t care then. He cares now. He’s hungry. He’ll die here if he doesn’t do something. Common sense: Go home. Make things right.
But things aren’t right. He admits it. What he did to his father. His life here, the choices he made. The fun, the parties, the women, the laughs, all of it. If he goes back, if he faces his father, he’s got to tell him, “My father, I have sinned…”
The word spits bitter from his mouth. It awakens a sense in him long since gone, dead, buried. From his childhood, he knows these things, he’s always known them. God – the glories of His heavens – the knowledge of right and wrong that makes us want to do right, live right, because He is God. He made us. He loves us.
Uncommon Sense: Get right with God.
Why? Because he has sinned against Him. He has chosen the selfish life. The immoral life. Dishonoring his father. Breaking every law God ever set for our good. He has to say it again. His eyes now lifted up: “My Father, I have sinned…”
Tell me, why does it take so long to hear from our uncommon sense? And when we do, to listen – really listen? But, this time, it moves him. He gets up, he ends his days with the pigs, he packs his few remaining things and begins the long journey home. It’s time to start putting things right. With God. With dad.
“I am not worthy to be your son.”
“Make me like my friends. Fed. Clothed. Warm. Alive.”
But, even now, the bitter taste remains. After all he’s done, why should his father – let alone his Heavenly Father -- even give him audience? And if he does, why say yes? He’s not worthy of it. He doesn't deserve it. And for the first time, in a long time, he knows it.
* * *
It was the last time Erilynne saw Callie at the hospital. She was discharged the next day and, soon enough, Erilynne knew she’d be calling – pushing -- to resume her position at church. But what would she tell her?
In her prayer journal, she wrote:
I am terribly confused. Again, I say, Callie is good at what she does. She seems strong and confidant in her relationship with You. This is what makes her a good Bible teacher. It’s why women seek her out for counsel and prayer.
So why can’t I hear the sound of You in her? It’s like she knows You for others but doesn’t know You for herself.
Years ago, at a dinner party, Callie’s mother made the strangest comment to me. “She’ll hide in the shadows if you let her. Always living somebody else’s story. Not her own.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But it stayed with me. And now, I wonder. Is this the real Callie? Not the gifted Christian leader but the one hiding in shadows? I feel like this is the one I met at the hospital.
And now, she’s scared. She needs me to pretend I never saw her like that so she can go on being what everyone needs her to be.
Two very different people.
Father, I don’t know what to say to her. Help me help her. Give me wisdom. Scatter the shadows around her and bring the light of Your Son into her heart. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen
Erilynne texted me at work Wednesday morning. “Guess who’s coming to see me this afternoon?”
“Perfect timing if it’s Callie,” I wrote.
“It is. She wants answers. She’s back at the women’s Bible study tomorrow.”
“What are you going to say?”
“Don’t know. Grasping at straws, pray.”
A little after four in the afternoon, Erilynne sent me an email that was part letter and part journaling.
Callie arrived a little past one. Relaxed and easy going. We sat in the kitchen, I made some tea, and we chatted for a while. Mostly about what she’s been doing since she left the hospital ten days ago. Dave. The kids. Getting back into routine. She’s still a bit overwhelmed by all the cards, flowers, and meals that keep on coming. She said she never expected it in a million years.
“You are very loved,” I assured her.
She gave a quick nod and admitted, “I’m nervous about tomorrow.”
“Are you ready to come back?”
“Yeah, I think I am,” she said, but the push was gone. And then she told me it’s why she’d come. “But is it ok just to be there and not do anything?”
I couldn’t hide my surprise.
“I need some time,” she said. “I know this is going to sound crazy to you. But I’m going to say it and hope you understand. Are you ready?” I nodded, not sure where she was going with this. “I don’t think I’m a Christian, not really.” And then she looked at me – waiting for a reaction. Wondering if she could go on.
“It’s ok,” I whispered.
Then she said, “You know, I’ve been to the psych ward before. Not as a patient but as a counselor to other women. So I decided, when I was there, to use my counseling skills on myself. What I said to them, I said to me. Do this. Pray this. Read this. Try this. All common sense principles from the Bible. It may have helped others…” She shook her head, looked straight at me, almost hard.
“I actually laughed out loud.”
She didn’t respond at first. She sipped her tea. She changed the subject. I’m telling you, she’s the prodigal daughter. Stuck at the pig sty. Having no idea how to get home. She rambled a bit but eventually circled back.
“I have a hard time receiving. I hate being the center of attention. I’ve never felt worthy, never, of anybody’s love – let alone God’s. And now, after what I’ve done, I don’t know what to do. I mean, I’ve got all the answers for everybody else.”
And then she pointed to her heart and shook her head.
“But it’s not here.”
I felt, at that moment, like Callie was actually stepping out of the shadows. The deepest sense we have – that call to be right with God – had somehow awakened in her. And now, I could see in her eyes the question I’d been hoping she’d ask. Not wanting to presume, I said, “Can I help?”
“Would you mind?”
I told her I’d love to. I think the prodigal daughter wants me to help her home. Amazing, huh?